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Behind the Skillet: "What is Your Story?"

Nothing brings people together like food. And those gatherings are primed for memory making and of course stories for sharing and stories to be, well, created. The Arkansas Cornbread Festival teamed up with the University of Arkansas, Little Rock Department of English, to create a storytelling competition exploring the intersections of the themes of food, culture, and community in the American South.

Central Arkansans were asked for stories, short creative works of fiction, poetry, or creative non-fiction, spoken word or storytelling that fit into one of three categories: Cornbread Lover (grades 6-12); Hot Skillet Cornbreader (college student); Cornbread Aficionado (community member no age limit).

Judges reviewed the entries and selected finalists who were invited to read their work during a Storytelling Awards evening at South on Main in Little Rock. Winners of each category were announced at the end of the evening. We share the winning submissions, including an honorable mention, along with a brief bio on each author below.

Other sponsors of the competition included the Celebrate! Maya Project, The Yarn Storytelling, South on Main, Rock City Eats, and the Oxford American.

Brooke

Cornbread Lover Category winner: Grades 6th-12th

Brooke Elliott is a junior at Little Rock Central High School, where she enjoys working as an editor on the historic Tiger newspaper. She is a member of the Teen Collective of the Arkansas Repertory Theater and recently wrote the book for a musical at the Summer Theater Academy of the Arkansas Arts Center. Her work has been selected for the ACANSA Ten-Minute Play Festival and the AETN Student Selects film showcase. Brooke is a National Gold Medalist in the Scholastic Writing Competition.

Read "Mama and the Cornbread Critter" here.

College

Hot Cornbreader winner: College Student

Cristie Armstrong grew up in Arkadelphia, Arkansas. Her love of writing was inspired by Joyce Allen, her aunt, who was an English Teacher (who only gave books on birthdays). She attends the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, Department of English, Creative Writing Concentration. 

Read "Cracklin Cornbread" here.

community

Cornbread Aficionado Category winner: Community - all ages

In a long ago former life, Ruth Weinstein taught high school English in Philadelphia, English as a foreign language in Japan, and English as a second language in the IELP program at UALR. She and her husband have lived on forty acres of wooded Ozark land for over forty-three years where they garden organically. Much of her writing-both in poetry and essay-stems from the matrix of gardening at the edge of the wilderness that surrounds their homestead and her love of cooking wholesome international cuisine. She is a textile artist working in weaving, quilting, clothing design and construction, and painted floor cloths. She has also painted with both watercolors and acrylics. Her family history/memoir, BACK TO THE LAND: Alliance Colony to the Ozarks in Four Generations is scheduled for release in January 2020 by Stockton University Press, Galloway, New Jersey. 

Read "Imagining Anthony Bourdain" here.

honorable mention

Cornbread Aficionado Category honorable mention: Community - all ages

Philip Michael Cottingham is a native Arkansan having spent a half dozen years in south Florida as a kid, with a couple of years in Texas, and as of recent was living in Colorado. He self-published two books, played in many different bands, am an avid reader of all things interesting, and exercise daily. While in college--degree still 'pending'--studied psychology, philosophy, and literature. On philipcottingham.com there are pieces detailing his travels over the last handful of years, including other varied written material.

Read "Trimmings" here.